Gov. John Hickenlooper doesn't believe high-profile Republican George Brauchler has a good chance of becoming the next governor.
Colorado Politics asked Hickenlooper, a Democrat who is term limited, about the gubernatorial race, which is already heating up ahead of next year.
The governor was asked whether he would consider clemency for convicted killer Nathan Dunlap before he leaves office if a Republican like Brauchler who supports the death penalty wins the race.
The governor said that while he hasn't given much though to a permanent reprieve for Dunlap before he leaves office, he isn't concerned.
"I don't see George Brauchler winning," Hickenlooper said in a one-on-one interview with Colorado Politics.
"I haven't seen how that all plays out . It's something that merits thought and it's on my list," he continued on considering clemency for Dunlap.
Brauchler, a well-known district attorney who was lead prosecutor in the case against Aurora theater shooter James Holmes, assailed Hickenlooper in 2013 for issuing a temporary stay of execution to convicted killer Nathan Dunlap. The next governor is free to lift the stay.
Dunlap was 19 years old in 1993 when he hid in the bathroom of a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Aurora until after closing time. He robbed the restaurant and killed four employees and seriously injured a fifth.
The issue hit a tipping point during the 2014 gubernatorial race, when Republicans attacked Hickenlooper, who was running for re-election, over the temporary reprieve. One thing that is clear is that Hickenlooper has not reversed course on the issue.
"To me there is no question that Nathan Dunlap has severe mental disabilities and . when I looked at the case I couldn't imagine putting him to death," Hickenlooper said. "We did a temporary reprieve because we wanted to be respectful of judicial process and all the people that worked on his case all the way through."
If Hickenlooper doesn't grant clemency, then Dunlap's fate could rest in the outcome of next year's election.
"Our affable governor has turned this decision into a Rubik's cube he cannot solve. It's not," Brauchler responded.
"Governor Hickenlooper can either respect and support the rule of law, the justice system and the verdict of a jury who rendered a sentence that survived 17 years of appellate review, or he can make himself the 'super juror' and substitute his judgment for the jury's. Gov. Hickenlooper's perpetual indecision continues to rob the victims of this cold-blooded mass murderer the closure and justice they deserve."
Ryan Lynch, Brauchler's campaign manager, shrugged off Hickenlooper's thoughts on Brauchler's election chances: "I'll bet the governor also thought that Hillary would be president and that's why he lobbied so hard to be her running mate."
Hickenlooper was on a short list of vice presidential candidates to run alongside Hillary Clinton last year, though Clinton ultimately went with U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.
For the governor, the death penalty conversation has been an evolution.
"When I was elected I was pro-death penalty - an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth - I've come 180 degrees," Hickenlooper said. "It's not cost effective, it doesn't do any benefit, it really divides .. You're creating these winners and losers.
"You look at capital punishment in its whole . There's no deterrence, whether you have the death penalty or not, the same amount of crime, the same amount of heinous violent murders," the governor continued, pointing to the high cost of prosecuting death penalty cases.
"(It's) the ultimate moral question. My job is to call up some jailer down in Canon City and tell him to kill somebody he doesn't want to kill. That's just morally a very difficult position."